This piece is produced by Jeff Porro, speechwriter at Porro Associates LLC.
Dynamic executives think long and hard about how to improve their skills, so they can both help their organizations succeed and also move forward in their careers. As you weigh the skill sets you need, be sure to include public speaking.
Here’s why: one of the great ironies of the 21st Century is that -- at a time when new communication technologies seem to spring up every week --one of the oldest forms of communication, one person speaking to a group, has become more important than ever. Studies show that speeches and presentations give executives the chance to create the kind of personal connection with audiences that people crave in the digital age. Jan Fox – a four-time Emmy winner, who is now a leading speech coach author—puts it this way, “Sequestration, the ups and downs of the economy, smaller staffs, bigger workloads…when there is so much change going on, how a top executive speaks about change will determine how the people will follow – employees, investors, customers.”
A few years ago, the Wall Street Journal featured an article that started with these words: “Give a speech. Win a client.”
As the article noted, if you’re making the traditional one-on-one or small-group sales call you face some big obstacles, starting with frustrating games of telephone tag. Even when you succeed in meeting with a prospect, you have to overcome that potential customers’ wariness about dealing with “another salesperson.”
Compare those challenges to what happens when you give a speech or presentation to an audience that includes potential clients. In a larger group, people feel less pressured, less awkward, and more willing to listen. Audience members also get a chance to see if they want to work with you without having to listen to your sales pitch.
And, most important, when you give a speech, the audience is there because they want to be. You are not there as “another sales person” but as a subject-matter expert, a thought leader. You’re providing them something they want—valuable information.
Advancing the Business
Think of the worst speech by a CEO that you ever heard. How did your opinion of the CEO’s company change after you heard that speech? You were probably less likely to do business with that firm, or at the very least to wonder about the strength of that firm’s leadership.
On the other hand, after the listening to a terrific speech by a CEO it’s a pretty safe bet your confidence in that company rose.
Mike Daniels, former chairman of Network Solutions, former chairman and CEO of Mobile365, and former chairman of the Northern Virginia Technology Council, put it this way: “If you have two growth companies headed by equally smart guys, where one can deliver an enthusiastic speech, lay out the mission of the company and encourage people to work smarter and harder and the other can’t…it makes a world of difference to the success of the company.”
And it’s not just the CEOs. Whenever any executive gives a terrific presentation, the audience always emerges from the event with a more positive view of that executive’s company or organization. A compelling speech builds reputation and broadens the pool of potential clients, customers and even investors.
Boosting your Career
Finally, since the ability to perform well behind the podium has become so important to organizations’ success, executives can make themselves more valuable if they can learn early on how to engage audiences. The audiences can be external or internal, large or small. A great presentation can mean the difference between success or failure at a small in-house meeting, or a large industry event. In addition, good communication skills are relatively rare among senior executives. Speaking well in front of audiences is a great way to set yourself apart.